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Hector's dolphin movement patterns in response to height and direction of ocean swell

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posted on 27.04.2016 by S Dittmann, S Dawson, W Rayment, T Webster, E Slooten

A central question to any understanding of ecology is how animals use their habitat, and how habitat use is influenced by temporally changing features of the environment. Previous research on Hector's dolphins at Akaroa Harbour, New Zealand suggested that dolphins leave inshore, harbour environments during or after rough weather. To test this hypothesis, visual sightings (2000–2012) and acoustic detections (2007–2008) of Hector's dolphins in Akaroa Harbour were modelled to test for a relationship with swell height and swell direction. Sighting rates and acoustic detection rates in Akaroa Harbour were significantly lower on days after big swell events and in some linear models after swell events from the south. These results indicate that swell events influence Hector's dolphin movements in and around Akaroa Harbour. Possible reasons for this behaviour are diverse and need further investigation. However, this information can be used both to predict daily dolphin movement for conservation and research purposes, and to suggest how dolphins may react in future if extreme weather events are becoming frequent.